Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Review: John Legend and The Roots- Wake Up!

Collaborations are supposed to be like this. This is fun, hopeful and at times, downright bad ass! "Wake Up!" sounds like a group of guys playing their favorite soul tunes and just jamming, and that's how it should sound. Is it gimmicky? Is it a little late? To both, maybe, but there's no denying that there's a strong sense of sincerity to these old songs, and who better to bring it than hip-hop's most iconoclatic group and the best R&B singer who's so good and vital to the industry that even your mom has heard of him?

That's not to say "Wake Up!" doesn't misstep. It suffers from length problems and some of these songs are questionable choices. "Humanity" is a near laughable track with a reggae backbeat that doesn't do the album favors, but when everything is clicking, you'd be hardpressed to find a better soul album. As expected, the music is top notch. In fact, you could go as far as to say this is the best The Roots have sounded as a band. Maybe it's the fact they play near every night on the talk show circuit, but the insturmentation is teriffic. In particular, Captain Kirk's awesome guitar and ?uestlove's always on pace drumming.

"Hard Times" and "Compared to What" are the first two cuts on the album and immediately suck you in with their vintage vibe and Legend's sense of urgency singing on both tracks. He's believing in the wrong and want's to do something about it damn it! Lord, does it sound all powerful too. "Compared to What" is a favorite forthe best song of the year, the song gets everything right that made the original such a vital soul tune in its day.

The lead single "Wake Up Everybody" doesn't live up to the high standard held up by the first two songs. It's not even Melanie Fiona who ruins it, but a verse by Common which at best, sounds out of place for a would-be legend who has been swinging and missing as of late. "Our Generation" makes up for it as it displays the sense of urgency and passion displayed on the first two tracks of the album, with its beat and production as retro as it should sound.

"Hang on in There" has the Curtis Mayfield vibe going on with its strings and dark view of the urban world which is on display this whole damn album. "Wholy Holy" doesn't exactly fit the mold for a would be gospel tune in the midst of an album whose views lie on taking on those who have bastardized faith, but I may be looking too much into it, and it doesn't help that the song is the slowest in a thick of jams.

John Legend starts of "I Can't Write Left Handed" talking about Bill Withers' last days before launching into a 10+ minute jam session full of amazing solos and guitar work done by the underrated Captain Kirk Douglass. He makes it shine with Hendrix like explosions, solidifying his spot has the best soul guitarist since the purple one.

Even though "Shine" may be a weak way to end this album, there's no denying that despite playing other people's songs, it showcases the talents of all these gentleman, who are the best at what they do, whether you've been watching or not. It's not a vital album by any means and both parties have done better, but in the hip-hop world, it's entirely refreshing and amazing to see artists talking about issues that matter, no matter how old the songs may be. In the world of "Not Afraid" or "Fine Your Love", I will take this any day of the week.

*** 1/2 out of *****

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